3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

From health care to politics, here's who you need to know in Houston innovation this week. Courtesy photos

There's no summer slowdown in sight, as Houston's innovation world keeps turning. Texas Children's Hospital is amping up their attention to innovation — and so is the mayor. Meanwhile, a local software company just made a big hire. Here's what innovators you need to keep an eye on.

Myra Davis, senior vice president and chief information and innovation officer of Texas Children's Hospital

Myra Davis is responsible for Texas Children's Hospital's technology and innovation — two completely separate things, she says. Courtesy of TCH

Myra Davis wants you to realize that there's a difference between technology and innovation. As the chief information officer, she's been in charge of maintaining tech within the hospital system. However, her role has evolved to include innovation, which means thinking about what new elements TCH can bring in — or what existing elements can be improved or expanded. Read more about Davis and what TCH is up to.

Talin Bingham, CTO of Identity Automation

Talin Bingham has been named CTO of Houston-based Identity Automation. Courtesy of Identity Automation

The chief technology officer is a huge role when it comes to a software company's hierarchy. Houston-based Identity Automation just tasked Talin Bingham with the position. Bingham replaces co-founder Troy Moreland as CTO, and Moreland will support the company in an advisory capacity. Last summer, the company made a major acquisition and sees plenty of opportunities for growth. Read more about the new hire.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner gave his State of the City address on May 20. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Mayor Sylvester Turner and his team are innovators themselves, constantly coming up with new ideas to enhance and connect the city. The city's latest endeavor was announced last week at the Greater Houston Partnership's State of the City luncheon. Mayor Turner's idea is to have 50 corporations sponsor 50 Houston-area parks scattered across the city for five years. Up next is finding 49 more companies, since Scott McClelland of HEB offered up his company on the spot. Read the 5 things the mayor promised in the address.

Myra Davis is responsible for Texas Children's Hospital's technology and innovation — two completely separate things, she says. Courtesy of TCH

Texas Children's exec to help transform the hospital's approach to innovation

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A few months ago, Myra Davis got a whole other slew of responsibilities with the addition of just one word to her title: Innovation. The senior vice president and chief information and innovation officer of Texas Children's Hospital oversees a team of individuals not only focused on bringing in new technologies and ideas — but maintaining those processes.

Currently, the hospital is in a transition phase looking to better represent its ongoing innovation, as well as bring in new aspects of innovation. Along with Paola Álvarez-Malo, assistant vice president of strategic and business planning at TCH, Davis is looking to keep TCH at the forefront of hospital innovation and pediatric care.

Davis sat down with InnovationMap to discuss the hospital's transformation process and how, while the work together, technoogy and innovation bring two different things to the table.

InnovationMap: What has been your initial focus since assuming the “innovation” part of your title a few months ago?

Myra Davis: When I was appointed, I stepped back and asked myself how we can go about doing this. I knew it was more than the need for technology. We needed to begin to leverage data and a resource that can be agnostic to the organization to help drive strategy.

IM: Why is being both the innovation officer and the information officer important?

MD: Typically, an innovation officer would pass off a new technology to the information officer and hope that they keep it up. Innovation is more than technology. It's about change, and advocating for change in practices, how we hire, how we look at outcomes, and how we look at data. Innovation is radical disruption of how we do things today. It's a full-time job, and then it backs up into including startups and new companies.

IM: Where are you in the transition process?

MD: We're in a discovery phase, which is almost complete. It will drive an outcome of what the structure should look like for an organization of our size and magnitude, and what additional resources we need to have. For example, today to make an appointment, you need to call and make an appointment at the front desk. But we should be disrupting that process and leverage technology. We should have goals of decreasing calls moving forward. We don't yet have the structure to bring those ideas to the table, but that's where I see it going.

IM: How have you seen innovation become a bigger player in health care?

MD: Health care is always a service organization. We're here to serve patients and help them get better. I think clinically, there's always been a need to stay innovative because it's medicine. Now, we're seeing the need to infuse the behaviors of innovative thinking and acting in our operating models to meet the health care model of service. What I mean by that is the cost of care. The models must change because reimbursements are changing, populations are changing, the demand of patients have changed. When I started, we never had patients not wanting to come in for care. Now, patients are saying they don't want to come in because it costs too much. While there's been a plethora of technologies — we have a host of technology systems — but we're realizing we've only scratched the surface with the opportunities we have.

I often talk about the little "i" versus the big "i" in the word "innovation." The little "i" is leveraging what you have already — that's an innovative game changer. Then there's the big "i" and that's the commercialization of a product or partnering with a startup company and they go public. When we say innovation, most people think of that big "i" but it's a spectrum.

IM: What’s the big technology you see disrupting the health care industry?

MD: I think it's data science. It's a major breakthrough. For prescriptive, predictive, and descriptive reasons, we can't afford to keep doing things ourselves. The market is getting competitive, and we must get to decision making faster. You got to go with the data. You can't be so precise it keeps you from being creative, but you have to start with knowledge.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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2 COVID-19-focused research projects happening in Houston

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While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

Elon Musk taps into Texas workforce for out-of-this-world bartender gig

DRINKING ON THE JOB

Can you mix a mean margarita? Are you capable of slinging a superb Aperol spritz? If so, Elon Musk wants you to become a "spaceport mixologist."

Musk's SpaceX, which builds and launches rockets, is hiring a "passionate, experienced" mixologist for its "spaceport" near Brownsville. The ideal candidate possesses at least two years of "superior" mixology experience at resorts, bars, and full-service restaurants, including the ability to pair drinks with themed menus.

Among other duties, the mixologist will prepare drinks, including handcrafted cocktails, and will ensure "consistency and compliance with the restaurant's recipes, portioning, and waste control guidelines."

The new mixologist will concoct alcoholic beverages for SpaceX's launch facility in Boca Chica, a Texas Gulf Coast community about 20 miles east of Brownsville. The job posting indicates the mixologist will work on the culinary team serving the SpaceX workforce.

According to Austin-based job website Indeed, the average mixologist in the U.S. earns $13.53 an hour. The SpaceX job posting doesn't list a salary, but you've got to imagine Musk — by far the richest person in Texas — would fork over more than $13.53 an hour for a spaceport mixologist.

By the way, in case you're not a master mixologist, SpaceX also is looking for a sous chef in Boca Chica. The sous chef will be tasked with cooking up menus that emphasize seasonal items and "creative" options. The chef's duties will include sourcing high-quality ingredients "with a focus on local, sustainable, and organic items."

Musk, who spends much of his time in Austin, is developing what the Bloomberg news service describes as an "empire" in Texas. Aside from the SpaceX facility, Musk-led Tesla is building a vehicle manufacturing plant just east of Austin and is moving its headquarters here. If that weren't enough, the Musk-founded Boring Co., which specializes in developing underground tunnels, lists 20 job openings in Austin on its website. In addition, SpaceX tests rocket engines at a site in McGregor, about 17 miles southwest of Waco.

"Texas has had its share of characters over the years, and many have been larger-than-life, wealthy risk-takers who came from elsewhere," Waco economist Ray Perryman tells Bloomberg. "There's still a wildcatting mentality here, and there's still a mystique about Texas that Elon Musk fits well."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.